Orders of the Day — Leeds (Local Authority Services)

– in the House of Commons am 12:00 am ar 5 Ebrill 1978.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Jim Marshall.]

11.4 p.m.

Photo of Mr Joseph Dean Mr Joseph Dean , Leeds West

I welcome this opportunity to bring to the attention of the House—

Photo of Mr Donald Kaberry Mr Donald Kaberry , Leeds North West

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to raise a point of order in an Adjournment debate, because I know how precious the moments are, and I shall be as brief as I can.

I submit that the subject matter of this debate cannot be answered by a Minister in the House tonight. It is a bad issue on three grounds. "Erskine May", in the nineteenth edition, at pages 277, 362 and 371, clearly sets out why this discussion is not amenable to being answered by a Minister tonight. It is precluded by the rule of anticipation. It is made clear in "Erskine May" that discussion on the Adjournment should not take place on a subject which stands on the Order Paper. Item 21 on today's Order Paper is consideration of the Inner Urban Areas Bill on Report. It is clear from "Erskine May" that we cannot anticipate discussion in connection with inner urban area matters.

Secondly, the Minister has no general responsibility or administrative capacity or responsibility to answer for the internal matters of the Leeds City Council, which is a district council, properly established, more recently under the terms of the Local Government Act but, in fact, going back 350 years. The level of the services of the council is clearly delegated to the city council. It is answerable to its electorate, ratepayers and voters. The Minister cannot speak authoritatively on the level of the services being granted by the city council. If he wished to do so, amendment of the Local Government Act 1972 would be required, and the moment I mention that legislation is required on a matter to be raised in an Adjournment debate should be the end of the debate. The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean) cannot call for an amendment to the law.

Thirdly, if what I say is correct, the Minister has no responsibility to question the level of the services to be given by the Leeds City Council. That is a matter that should be answered by the leader of the council and he should come to the Dispatch Box to answer charges made against him by hon. Members on whether the services granted by the council are in order. But that, again, would require an amendment to the 1972 Act, and the minute that is made clear should be the end of the Adjournment debate, because no question of legislation can arise in such a debate.

I could develop the arguments but I shall not do so. I ask for your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as to whether this debate on the subject listed on the Order Paper can properly be answered by the Minister or dealt with at all without some amendment of the 1972 Act.

Photo of Mr Oscar Murton Mr Oscar Murton , Poole

I thank the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Sir D. Kaberry) for giving me notice of the points he has raised. I am sure he knows that applications for Adjournment debates are carefully considered by Mr. Speaker to ensure that they comply with the rules of the House. I am clear, therefore, that the subject that the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean) is raising is in order. It is, of course, true that the hon. Member may make only incidental reference to matters requiring a legislative remedy, but that point is covered under Standing Order No. 16. Mr. Joseph Dean

Photo of Mr Donald Kaberry Mr Donald Kaberry , Leeds North West

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Mr Joseph Dean Mr Joseph Dean , Leeds West

I am not prepared to give way. You have called me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and this is my Adjournment debate.

Photo of Mr Donald Kaberry Mr Donald Kaberry , Leeds North West

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Mr Oscar Murton Mr Oscar Murton , Poole

Sir Donald Kaberry, on a point of order—quickly, please.

Photo of Mr Donald Kaberry Mr Donald Kaberry , Leeds North West

May I ask whether that ruling covers the rule of anticipation, because the Inner Urban Areas Bill is item 21 on the Order Paper today?

Photo of Mr Joseph Dean Mr Joseph Dean , Leeds West

I am sorry that such a distinguished Back Bencher as the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Sir D. Kaberry) should stoop to such a scurrilous tactic as he has just tried in order to attempt to gag someone. I remind him that his personal friend, the leader of the city council, took me to task when I was not present, so I see no difference in what is now taking place. I do not know whether the Standing Orders allow for an hon. Member to be given injury time, but, if so, I shall take full advantage of it and speak for as long as I wish.

The reason why I have asked for this debate is that it is apparent to anyone who knows Leeds that it has in certain areas as much inner city deprivation as other cities which have been included in full partnerships. I was one of those who expressed disappointment at the exclusion of Leeds from the partnership scheme, although it has been placed on the supplementary list.

I consider it my duty as a Member of Parliament representing that city to care for my electors and the standard of services they receive. It is my job to make sure that, if resources are being made available from the Government, the interests of my electors do not go by default. It is well known on the political scene that every time the Conservatives want to debate local government they cite the city of Leeds as a wonderful example of running services on the cheap. It was not so long ago that the Conservatives chose the city of Leeds as such an example in a Supply Day debate.

The Leader of the Opposition was featured on "Weekend World" some time ago and she paraded Leeds as a marvellous example. The leader of the city council, to whom the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West referred, was featured in a political broadcast. It would be interesting to know whether the fact that Leeds had been paraded in such a way as having done so well explains why it does not have an inner city partnership.

I tabled a series of Questions in an attempt to discover what has been happening. The answers do not confirm the picture that the Conservatives have painted. The Conservatives made a botch of local government reorganisation, but, in spite of that, the large single-unit authorities were left with considerable powers to care for their people. The main services are housing and education. In the past, Leeds has had a tremendous history on housing. At one time it set the pattern nationally. Now, however, Leeds has a waiting list of 20,000 families.

The figures that were given in the replies to me also showed that, out of the six big authorities, Leeds in the last 10 years has gone from first to fifth position in house building. A city which is only two-thirds the size of Leeds has built 10,000 more houses than Leeds in the last 10 years. Why did Leeds not do the same? It had the same resources. There was never any capital cut-back on new housing even during the economic blizzard of the last two years.

A couple of weeks ago I asked an Oral Question urging the Minister, in view of the 20,000 families living in bad conditions in the city, to stop the sale of council houses there. My right hon. Friend said that he would look at the matter carefully. I pointed out then that, while council houses were being sold for about £5,000 each, it would cost over £70,000 each to replace them, in view of the way that housing is financed over a 60-year period.

It is worth considering the reaction of the leader of the council. In his budget speech he pointed out what a wonderful housing policy Leeds had. He said that 2,000 council houses had been sold and that the council was on its way towards the 3,000 figure with a target of 4,000. He claimed that the city was being saved £400,000 a year. But to replace those houses, which would be necessary if the council was to discharge its duties and rehouse people in decent conditions, would cost a minimum of £280 million over 60 years. Many of those funds will come from the Government, and I suggest that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should consider whether he should be allowing the city council to proceed with the sale.

The rest of the money must be made up by the ratepayers of Leeds and in increased rents. That is not a bright prospect for housing. I wonder whether the leader of the city council, who is a successful business man, would dispose of his own assets in that way. But it is nice to dispose of public assets, which have been funded by public money, in that way for electoral gain.

Let me turn now to the chairman of the housing committee in Leeds. In a fit of adolescent genius, he came out with the statement in the Press, when told that I had raised this question, that there was a difference of policy between the Tories and the Labour Party. He said that the Labour Party wanted everyone to live in a council house. Have you ever heard such tripe in your life, Mr. Deputy Speaker?

There has been no Government in the history of Great Britain who have done more to help the owner-occupier than the present Government. Three years ago they provided £500 million to bail out the building societies. When my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary replies, I hope that he will nail the lie once and for all. We are not against owner-occupiers. We believe in owner-occupation, but the private sector should cater for it. Where there is a shortage of rented accommodation, as there is to a great degree in cities such as Leeds, it should be dealt with, and it cannot be dealt with by the sale of council houses. Houses should be made available for those wo need them.

I turn to another important service. The information in the letter to which I have referred is a deliberate fraud. I do not think that Councillor Irwin Bellew—I refer to him by name as he took the liberty of naming me—is so unknowing about teaching that he could mention in his speech and see publication of figures that ar not remotely right.

Twelve months ago I had good fortune in the Ballot. I chose to talk about education in Leeds. I challenged some of the ministerial assumptions and ministerial criteria for judging what is termed the pupil-teacher ratio. I cited a primary school in my constituency—it is not one in isolation—where there were nearer to 40 children in each class than 30. What does Councillor Bellew say? He says that the pupil-teacher ratio in Leeds at present is 20–7.

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West, who tried to stop me speaking, has 20 children in each class in his constituency, but I challenged the leader of the Leeds City Council to visit my constituency and find a pupil-teacher in class ratio of 20. I am talking about the number of pupils in a class per teacher and not the mystical figure that is arrived at by including everyone working for the Leeds education authority who happens to have teaching qualifications.

When I visited a school in my constituency—I refer to the Parkspring School—the girl taking the new year intake said "Look at what I have to put up with here, Mr. Dean. There are 40 children starting in a class". That is the situation, yet the leader of the council has the infernal cheek to say in his speech that Leeds is better than Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle and Manchester. Only somebody so consumately arrogant or completely ignorant of the facts could dare to make such a statement.

It is slightly more difficult to deal with the social services. The figures are based on the financial year which has just ended. I cannot quote this year's figures as there are unknown quantities. I do not want to mislead the House into thinking that I am talking of figures that may be slightly altered upwards. However, there are equations that will alter. The leader of the Leeds City Council boasts about a 10 per cent. increase in spending per capita for every child at school. How does Leeds compare with six local authorities of comparable size? The authority spending the highest amount, which finds itself at the top of the list, was spending over £100 more per child at school compared with Leeds. The authority taking fifth place was spending about £40 more per child.

It is suggested by the leaders of the Leeds Council and the political machine that is now in situ that Leeds is doing a marvellous job, that it is doing better than any other authority and is spending less money. As a product of local government, I consider that to be a deliberate misleading statement of fact. It is a downright lie. No one in local government can tell us that such considerable sums can be saved by mere administration. It is suggested that the children in schools in my constituency, who are sharing classes with 35 to 40 others, are being as well taught by one girl as they would be in authorities in which the average number per class is down to the national average of 25? I do not believe that.

I have the utmost respect and regard for the teachers in my constituency and for the job they do, but I think that they get a rotten deal from the Leeds Council in terms of the resources that are made available. That must be looked at. I hope that the Minister will get away from the nonsense of pupil-teacher ratios, because it gives reactionary authorities, such as the Conservative-controlled Leeds City Council, an excuse to hide behind a completely "phoney" formula.

I turn now to welfare services, which are a little more difficult to analyse. Nobody can accurately gauge the numbers of elderly or handicapped people authority by authority. My Question on that matter showed that, per head of population, Leeds was in sixth place. Has it happened by accident?

I asked myself who is to blame for this situation. I have my suspicions. I suspect that Leeds was not given an inner city partnership because of its appallingly low funding of its own services. I do not think that a Government of any colour dare pick up the lot for a city that boasts that it is paying 20p in the pound less rates than cities of similar size. When the Conservatives first took control of Leeds City Council they had £6 million to play with, but they did not put that money into services. They did not get rid of all the outdoor toilets about which they boasted in the letter, in about 40 Dickensian-type schools. They did not put it to use for that purpose. They paid it all back. Then, within two years, they expect the Government to pick up the bill for that kind of activity. Of course Governments make mistakes, but they do not make mistakes of that kind. The matter must therefore be looked at on that kind of basis.

I think that two people run the Leeds City Council, the leader of the council and his side-kick, Councillor Sparling. They seem to act like a political Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Photo of Mr Albert Roberts Mr Albert Roberts , Normanton

I have been listening to my hon. Friend making these points, and I think that he is making them very well indeed. He is trying to prove the destitution that exists in the city of Leeds. I get sick and tired of hearing the Merseyside lament, the panderings to the Midlands and the crying-out of the North-East when the West Yorkshire area is completely neglected. These points have been well highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds. West (Mr. Dean).

Photo of Mr Joseph Dean Mr Joseph Dean , Leeds West

One has to ask who is to blame for this situation. Of course, the ready-made answer by Councillor Bellew is "It is this lousy Government. If they gave us more money, we would spend more money. They have cut our money from three years ago."

I was involved in local government five years ago, and the situation was so appallingly bad for the big cities under the Conservative Government that in 1973 the then leader of the Leeds City Council, Councillor Sir Albert King, was one of a deputation of six from the big cities who went to see the Conservative Prime Minister and exposed the sham of what was happening with regard to financial support from the Government. The formula was supposed to be 60 per cent. from the rate support grant and 40 per cent. from the rates. But, because of the criteria being used, Leeds, Manchester. Liverpool and other big cities were receiving 40 per cent. and having to find 60 per cent. The Prime Minister sent them away empty-handed. Now this man, the leader of the Leeds City Council, has the cheek to say that they are being unfairly treated by this Labour Government.

In 1974 the first action of this Labour Government, through the late Anthony Crosland, was to alter the situation in favour of these large cities by rate equalisation. To claim that the council has been done down and is not being treated fairly is completely "phoney". Leeds is getting a bigger percentage of its expenditure from this Government than it has ever had before. Therefore, that excuse will not wash.

One particular area in my constituency is as bad as any deprived area that I have seen anywhere. I have no doubt that other parts of Leeds, represented by other hon. Members, are as bad. But it may be that the hon. Member for Leeds. North-West is lucky in the patch that he represents. There is a reasonable increase in the Leeds budget figures for this year, perhaps, but that does not make up for the existing deficits.

What can be done about a situation like this to see that this deprivation ceases? What can be done about a city that cuts its building programme to 1,250 houses when it has a waiting list of about 20,000 and is disposing of council houses at the present rate? I hope that the Minister will give me some reason for hope when he replies. I have aired the situation, and I should like to see him look with sympathy at the suggestion of making funds available. I am convinced that the way that the council in Leeds is operating, of fighting elections with rates as the sole issue and giving council houses away at knock-down prices, must be investigated, and dealt with by this Government.

11.26 p.m.

Photo of Mr Guy Barnett Mr Guy Barnett , Greenwich

I must admit to having been a little surprised by the point of order that was raised at the beginning of the debate. I can never recall such a thing happening before in Adjournment debates. I was also mildly surprised not to have received any notice of the fact that such a point of order would be raised on the question of my competence to reply to the debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean) made a very interesting speech about the low provision of services by Leeds District Council. He is better placed than I am to comment on the level of services provided. The fact is that it would be impossible for us in the Department of the Environment to do a detailed breakdown across all local authorities of both the level of services they are providing and the cost of their doing so. Even if it were possible, it would probably not be right for us to try.

The range of differences between authorities on their size and composition, the needs they have to meet and the means they adopt for doing so rule this out. However, I understand that it is true that Leeds levies a comparatively low rate poundage and that ratepayers in Leeds meet a lower proportion of the authority's rate and grant-borne expenditure than the average for metropolitan districts. Tory-controlled, as it is, it is hardly surprising to find Tory philosophies about public expenditure being implemented in the city.

I am afraid that this is an area where, as a Minister in the Department of the Environment, I must tread carefully. It is up to Leeds City Council, as to every other local authority, to determine its own level of spending, and use of the resources available to it, in the light of local needs and circumstances. My hon. Friend made a very good case on the basis of per capita expenditure of local authority services, but I hope that he will understand the reasons why I must refrain from commenting on what he said.

It is obviously difficult for me to assess whether the level of services provided by Leeds is markedly below that provided in other metropolitan districts. Total expenditure or expenditure per head of population is not necessarily a good indicator of the level of quality of services provided, as it does not take into account local needs or the different ways in which such needs may be met.

If the local electorate feel that the resulting provision is too low, I am sure that they will register their displeasure in due course at the ballot box. Certain duties are laid on local authorities and we in the Government set minimum levels of services or overall standards which local authorities are required to meet. Beyond that, I believe that it would be trespassing on the relationship between central and local government if we were to seek to indicate to them how they should spend their money.

I want to turn particularly to the subject for which we are directly responsible in the Department, and that is the level of Government grants. I want to answer the charges, to which my hon. Friend referred, that the central Government has not been fair to Leeds—that we have not taken adequate account of the needs of the city.

It is undeniable that central Government actions have an effect upon individual local authorities, in particular through rate support grant and through the annual distribution of the needs element.

I would never claim that the present regression system is perfect; it certainly is not. But it is the most objective and accurate method currently available. It ensures that, as far as possible, resources are concentrated in the areas of the country which face the most pressing social and economic problems.

On the basis of the latest figures available to us, we estimate that Leeds' final needs element entitlement will increase by some 6 per cent. to £62 million in 1978–79, so on that score I do not think that the central Government can be held to have been ungenerous to Leeds according to the normal rate support grant system. I recognise that it is not a spectacular gain for the authority, but it is in fact better than the average for metropolitan authorities generally. So I do not think that Leeds can claim that it has been done down by the Government as far as rate support grant is concerned.

My hon. Friend has referred to housing. The facts are that the city council applied for a housing investment programme of £38 million for 1978–79. This was an increase of some £12 million compared with its allocation for 1977–78. When the allocations were made at the beginning of the year, it was possible to give Leeds £29·25 million. Leeds' cash allocation, therefore, equalled 69 per cent. of its bid—which exactly equals the average percentage for all local authorities in England.

I am glad that my hon. Friend also referred to the question of the sale of council houses. I should like to confirm absolutely that the present Government, so far from being against owner-occupation, are very strongly in favour of it. As my hon. Friend knows, we are concerned about some councils which appear to be selling council houses indiscriminately, disregarding local housing needs. I understand that Leeds has a total dwelling stock of 272,000 houses and that the council owns 36 per cent. of that total. My information is that in 1977 there were 19,500 families on the waiting list.

It is the general policy of my Department to advise local authorities to take a balanced view. I fully understand the feelings of people whose councils appear to be selling their housing stocks indiscriminately, and my hon. Friend has represented these feelings to us eloquently. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction told my hon. Friend last month that he would be ready to amend the general consent for council house sales if the circumstances warranted it. I am afraid that I cannot say any more about that now.

I want to turn briefly to the subject of education. Although this is, of course, not my own field of responsibility, I understand that provisional allocation for all building in Leeds in 1978–79 has just been doubled and that the authority intends to use some of this money to build a replacement for a primary school whose cause, I know, has long been close to my hon. Friend's heart.

I wish that I had time to go into detail about the contribution that the Government have made towards inner city policy. I recognise the disappointment expressed by my hon. Friend that Leeds has not been selected as a partnership authority. Partnership authorities selected themselves, in effect, by the degree and concentration of the problems that they contain.

My hon. Friend knows, however, that, as a programme authority, the Leeds City Council can, in effect, expect a good deal of assistance from the central Government. I hope that we shall get from Leeds a recognition of the problems of deprivation that exist in that city matching the priority that the Government are giving in urban aid grants to assist cities with problems of the kind that Leeds has.

Finally, I hope that my hon. Friend is persuaded that we have tried to treat Leeds as fairly as we can and not, as some have pretended, with injustice. We are anxious to see Leeds make the most of its inner area programme, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction is taking a special interest in that programme. We shall of course be willing to offer advice and assistance in whatever way we can.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twenty-six minutes to Twelve o'clock.